RE-USE, RECYCLE: HOW CAN RETAIL EMBRACE THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY?

RE-USE, RECYCLE: HOW CAN RETAIL EMBRACE THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY?

AS SUSTAINABILITY IS MAKING ITS WAY TO THE TOP OF CONSUMERS PRIORITIES, RETAILERS ARE FACING THE NECESSITY OF ADDRESSING CLOTHING RESALE AND RECYCLING.

What do your customers do with the garments they bought from you when these are no longer worn? Probably take them to charity shops or to the nearest recycling station. But why not encourage them to bring these items back to you, thus turning this transaction into another customer engagement opportunity? A growing number of major brands and retail chains is doing just that: taking back consumers’ used items in exchange for rewards, thus enhancing both their green credentials and the relationship with their clients. Many businesses then outsource clothes recycling to I:CO, much of which is “downcycled” into lower value products, such as insulation. This is the case with Cotton Blue Jeans’ ‘Go Green’ recycling program in collaboration with ‘Zappos for Good’. Attracted by an interactive digital campaign, with explanatory videos and the hashtag #bluejeansgogreen, consumers mail their old jeans in for free, or drop them off at partnering retailers such as Levi’s, Madewell, rag & bone, O.N.S., American Eagle Outfitters, or Ariat, and get discounts in return.

Some fashion brands repurpose their own used garments in-house. Through its ‘Waste no more’ initiative, Eileen Fisher has received over 1 million worn pieces from customers since 2009. Garments in perfect condition are cleaned and resold through their ‘Renew’ program. The rest is remade into artwork and decor through a custom felting method. For each return customers receive a 5 USD rewards card.

Re-cycling or upcycling isn’t the only way of dealing with clothes that are no longer wanted: many enterprises have turned to resale for profit increase, and to compete with popular clothing resale companies including The RealReal, Grailed, Poshmark, and Farfetch’s new ‘Second Life’. As WeAr has previously reported (see ‘The Rise of Resale’ report in Issue 55), multilabel stores that sell new merchandise, such as Galeries Lafayette, have been teaming up with online secondhand retailer Rebelle to sell on their customers’ pre-loved items; while some retailers, such as the Swedish company Aplace, are adding second- hand offerings to the new collections within their own retail spaces. California- based company Yerdle, the brainchild of former Walmart executive Andy Ruben, creates customized resale channels for retailers and designers to integrate into their existing systems – see the Business Talks section for more details.

These examples suggest that recycling might mean rethinking product, merchan- dising and marketing. Used clothing could be resold in ‘vintage’ sections or repurposed, following Eileen Fisher’s model, into other salable products, or in-store furnishings and objects. Some of the brands you stock might already have recycling mechanisms to integrate. For non-salable returns, why not enlist recycling companies such as TEXAID, as the first step towards a more sustain- able business approach.